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“The soft left has collapsed” November 22, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

That point was put to me last week, that with the demise of Labour and the somewhat difficult situation of the Social Democrats that part of the Irish left has, to all intents and purposes, left the building. Of course it’s worth contextualising this. The soft left was never very strong.

Many of us are old enough to remember when Labour returned a grand total of twenty two or so TDs on a continual basis. Right through the 1960s and 1970s that was the situation. In the 1980s it actually got worse – though I suppose one could see it as a rebalancing of the left vote with the WP eventually winning up to seven seats on its own to add to a diminished LP. The percentages tell their own tale too. Labour in the 1960s was above 10% and occasionally up to 17%. In the 70s and 80s that dropped to 10% or so. By the late 1980s under pressure from other parties (ironically on its right flank too from the PDs) the LP was down to 6.5%. But the WP never achieved more than 4% or so.

By the way IEL’s post here from last week is revelatory in terms of showing how high the hill the LP must climb.

Swings and roundabouts saw the LP gain 19.3% in 1992 but in retrospect that was never a ‘left’ vote as such so much as a change vote, and so it has gone. The pattern of the 2000s was an LP on about 10% or so with a blip in 2011.

And those rivals? Well SF most obviously, slowly but surely eating up percentages – 6.7% in 2007. 9.9% in 2011 despite Labour’s salad days on 19.4%, 13.8% this year.

But still beyond the LP and SF it’s thought-provoking to note that AAA-PBP registered at just shy of 4% this year, 2% or so (in its constituent parts) five or so years ago and each less than a percentage point, well less, in 2007. I’ve another friend who argues consistently that given the depth and severity of the crisis – and indeed its length, that’s poor enough reward for them. I take a slightly different view – gaining seats is very difficult and in such a formation rich environment it is even more so.

So the left vote, if we pull it all together? Taking the LP and SDs as the softest fractions – 9.6% – almost their traditional base. Further left? 3.9% – again not out of line with previous iterations of the further left. I4C? 1.5%.

But what about Sinn Féin? Well to me, programatically they are of the left, but I am not immune to the argument that they’re a big tent party. Their 13.8% is significant, and it is clearly a vote against the status quo. If we put them into the mix then the left has doubled (Independents are a different kettle of fish again, how to look at the 11.7% of their vote and break it down? And what of the Independent Alliance. Is Halligan or McGrath still softish left? Or do we simply look at self-defined ‘lefts’ which are effectively parties? Clearly some of that vote is leftish and soft left. But how much?).

If we add in a few extra percentage points from Independents then we’re looking at upwards of 30%. But again, it’s – for want of a better word – conflicted, not entirely clearly leftwing in all its parts. And I can’t escape the feeling that a good 10% of it is actually an FF vote that has split away from that party and not found the means to go back (and on the other side of the spectrum perhaps 4-5% of the Ind vote is largely a PD vote that is homeless).

Perhaps it is not so much that the soft left vote has collapsed as that it is no longer represented by who once represented it. It’s now represented by many (and by the by some of its vote no doubt powers AAA-PBP too, at least marginally, unless they’re not pulling votes in beyond those who might usually vote for them which seems unlikely).

How this plays out further? I have no idea. Any thoughts?


1. irishelectionliterature - November 22, 2016

The Soft Left vote has collapsed since it’s polling high in 2010. The main reason is that Labour were in Government and did little or nothing.
I know it’s all supposition now but in 2011 had FG gone in with some Independents rather than Labour , after 5 years of outrage from Labour on the opposition benches ,we would have seen a Labour Party probably returned with a record number of seats and quite probably a Labour Taoiseach.


Ed - November 22, 2016

As Stephen Collins sagely announced the day after the election, getting something right for once—five years late, of course, after assuring Labour that its sacrifice for the nation would be rewarded by a grateful electorate.


EWI - November 22, 2016

And after stabbing the Greeks in the back, too.


dublinstreams - November 22, 2016

in IT interview “Mr Howlin said the lack of generosity shown by the EU worsened the crisis in Greece” http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/labour-leader-blames-eu-institutions-for-rise-of-far-right-1.2875908


2. CMK - November 22, 2016

I’m less and less convinced that the crisis is ‘over’ we may look back at the 2013-2016/7 period as a brief breathing space between the second, more acute, phase of the crisis initiated in 2008. FF/FG are doubling down on neo-liberalism; Labour show no signs of understanding why they are currently in the predicament they are in; and we have neo-fascists and fascists poised consolidating their positions. I can’t see where else but Left political answers are going to come from.


dublinstreams - November 22, 2016
3. EWI - November 22, 2016
Bronwen Maher - November 24, 2016

Death of soft left? Disagree, SF and a bevy of independents are holding that position now. But I dont know if we ever had a real left or right in Ireland. Our political class has been centralist, with a few outliers facilitated by the PR system, and following popular feeling or needs. So we get conservative, liberal and radical politicians returned depending on the economic reality of the majority of people’s lives. Politicians also follow the public lead when it comes to social policy. That is why Labour did not get any bounce for the Marriage Equality Referendum. But usually we can break down voters preference in Ireland into a a 70% conservative 30% liberal bias – and I think we are back to that place as the crash and troika constraints fade.


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